How To Choose The Right Paraglider (Part Five: Safety)


What
is a safe paraglider? It’s a wing that in
all conditions: you can control easily; doesn’t collapse often
(with your input) and recovers fast for you. You’ve probably guessed it already: the biggest
element of paraglider safety is the pilot. If you haven’t done SIV training recently,
you can do more to improve your safety. The reaction speed and clear thinking that you
bring to a collapse scenario determines the outcome more than anything the wing designer
can do. There’s a huge disconnect here. The EN test
protocol tests wings for most classes by simulating a collapsed wing with an unresponsive pilot.
In real life, the pilot will do one of three things: large panicked responses that make
matters worse, moderate corrective input that fixes the problem, or freezing up and doing
nothing. The last response can be better than the first, but why put your life in the hands
of fate? Learn what the wing does when it shuts down, become familiar with the sensations
of high-G manoeuvres, and train regularly. Now we can have a discussion about the safety
of the wing itself. Simulating collapses is a tricky business.
The EN test is a very controlled environment with strict protocols and highly skilled pilots.
No doubt their results are accurate but it can be different in real life. In other words,
if you just whack in a 50% asymmetric, it’s likely that it won’t recover within EN test
norms. A slight bit of weightshift, a whiff of turbulence, or an over-enthusiastic yank
on the risers, and you get something rather hotter than you were expecting. This has become
more noticeable in recent years, as manufacturers push wings up to the limit of the classes.
This means that your friend who owns the Wrockit5 can’t tell you much about the wing’s safety.
This caveat applies to wing reviewers as well. I can’t resist the temptation to ‘try out
a few collapses’ on new wings, but I’m wary of the information value. It just helps me
form an opinion of the feeling of security. Broadly speaking, the higher the class, the
lower the passive safety of the wing. The higher class wings tend to jump around more
and suffer more collapses. If you have good active flying skills you can minimise this:
the wing responds faster to corrective inputs, and because the feedback from the wing is
higher you can feel what’s coming a moment before the wing deforms.
Collapse resistance is improved by loading and tensioning the leading edge area. For
example, I have flown an Icepeak 6 for many years in some really stonking conditions,
and had no collapses apart from small tip closures, despite flying on a lot of speedbar.
But when collapse-resistant wings finally collapse, the recovery can be more violent
than softer wings that ball up and recover from a semi-stalled state. Because I’m confident
with my SIV skills and fly very actively, I am prepared to introduce wildness in some
extreme situations for a wing that reduces the number of blowouts. Your mileage may vary.
Again, it’s so important to match the wing with the pilot.
Bringing the discussion back to the XC class, the most common situation you’ll face is the
asymmetric collapse when scratching on a ridge (at trim speed). Sod’s Law dictates that it
will happen on the mountain side while going downwind. The wing you don’t want is the one
which turns fast and dives during its recovery. This is probably the most useful feature of
the EN tests: the more extreme this reaction, the higher the rating. However, most modern
wings score an A on the 50% asymmetric-from-trim-speed test. Yes, even my Icepeak 6. So it’s hard
to make a decision based on the EN tests, because they focus on recovery not on collapse
tendency. It’s better to look at the underlying cause
of the asymmetric: pitch behaviour, the way a wing ‘jumps forward’ when the brakes are
released, or when nearing a thermal. This is useful for experienced pilots, giving you
a real feeling of approaching lift, and energy to crank a tight turn. The downside is that
if you don’t have developed active piloting skills and fast responses, the wing will collapse,
over and over, even in ‘easy’ conditions. Safer wings are trimmed ‘nose up’, with a
deeper camber: they just bumble along and don’t need intervention.
This is why we classify wings according to pilot groups and not EN letters. For example,
the Gin Carrera is too hot to be compared with other XC Class wings like the Nova Mentor
4 and Advance Iota despite the fact that they all share an EN B rating. The Carrera has
a higher aspect ratio and reacts like other Performance Class wings (Niviuk Artik 4).
Have a look at how we group wings on our online shop.
If you fly one class of wing below what you think you’re capable of handling, you have
room for error. Apart from flying conditions deteriorating, the wing condition changes.
Over time the fabric stretches and the line trim goes out. This affects its tendency to
collapse and recovery characteristics. Safety comes from being prepared, so base
your decisions on reliable information. What really counts is the knowledge of the wing
built up over time by experienced pilots watching the wings in real conditions, not the wing
that floats best on ‘forum froth’. At Flybubble, we have built our reputation
on sharing good advice. Come on over to our website and see what we have to offer.

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